The All India Forum for the Right to Education (AIFRTE) is fully aware of the threat posed by the Covid-19 crisis to the health and socio-economic well being of the Indian people in particular those who suffer chronic under-employment and unemployment. As such, the AIFRTE and its member organizations, like all other democratic people's organizations, have been in the forefront of activities aimed at ameliorating the conditions of the people in these difficult times and have united with the rest of the country in facing this challenge.
However, AIFRTE is deeply troubled by the Government of India (GOI) having embarked on an extremely reprehensible course of action. The Covid-19 crisis is being used as a subterfuge for imposing, in a completely unconstitutional and undemocratic manner, policies that will have a far reaching impact on the civil rights of the people and on the character of Indian society.
The direct and shameless abuse of power, using the colonial anti-sedition law and the recently amended Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) - which targets as terrorists individuals who are not affiliated to a declared terrorist organization - against students, teachers, academics and public intellectuals and civil liberties and human rights activists, has now reached outrageous proportions. All right to dissent is being crushed. Peaceful protestors and activists are being booked and arrested during the Covid-19 `lock-down' which prevents all democratic forms of protest, and are being held without the possibility of trial under prison conditions that are an extreme health hazard because of the pandemic. We note in particular arrests of organizers of the Jamia Co-ordination Committee (JCC) which has played an inspiring and leading role, following the ruthless attack by the police on the Jamia Milia Islamia campus, in defending the constitutional rights of people and demanding the repeal of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA).
We are outraged by the fact that victims of the state-sponsored riots in north Delhi are being charged with instigating the violence that has destroyed their homes and livelihood. Everywhere the story is the same. Peaceful struggles, whether against massive fee-hikes on university campuses or powerful democratic resistance against the blatantly anti-constitutional CAA, have been viciously attacked.
Compelling evidence of the role of right-wing hindutva forces and identified leaders, including ministers of the ruling cabinet, in instigating violence with police protection and backed by the ruling party and government is shamelessly ignored and brushed aside. Either no action at all is taken against them or else they are immediately released on bail on minor charges. However, peaceful protestors are charged with trumped up heinous crimes and incarcerated under draconian laws.
The ruling regime is thus not only continuing but is intensifying under Covid-19 lock-down the strategy used against democratic activists and intellectuals in the Bhima-Koregaon case. The recent arrest and incarceration of Prof. Anand Teltumbde and Gautum Navlakha on Ambedkar Jayanti (14th April 2020) despite the clear threat of the Corona virus to the lives of these senior citizens with co-morbidities is a brazen assault against defenders of civil liberties.
Unfortunately, the highest judiciary appears to have caved in before this concerted attack and has repeatedly failed to protect the citizens. The result is that the regime is acting with increasing impunity as seen in the inhuman arrest and incarceration in solitary confinement of the pregnant research student Safoora Zargar for participating in the anti-CAA protests. Similarly, Police searched the house of Kanwalpreet, state secretary of Delhi AISA and confiscated her mobile phone, warning her of dire consequences because of her participation in `illegal' activities.
Another recent action of the Delhi Police which functions under the Centre reveals the level to which this harassment has sunk. Mahesh, a unit secretary of Parivartankami Chhatra Sangh (PACHHAS) has been subjected to false cases under sections 188, 269, 270 and Disaster Management Act 51. He has been charged with instigating protest on social media by observing hunger strike in his own home on 23 April 2020 as part of a country-wide daylong hunger strike in solidarity with migrant workers and students. The demands of the strikers were testing of stranded workers and students for infection, provision of facilities to take them home and immediately providing ration and financial help for the stranded across the country.
Under these hostile circumstances the GOI has introduced a series of ordinances and regulations regarding working hours and conditions, salary and pension structures, the education system and widespread digital surveillance under the pretext of improving the public health system. As usual the GOI finds it unnecessary to even inform the people, let alone debate these issues and follow democratic conventions and procedures in implementing them.
AIFRTE is deeply concerned and disturbed by these measures all of which must be exposed and resolutely opposed. The GOI is exploiting the Covid-19 crisis for crushing all dissent.
At the same time it has failed to act to protect the health of the people against the virus. The lock-down, unplanned and imposed in a sudden four-hour time-span, caused enormous hardship for the people and a humanitarian crisis of disastrous proportions for lakhs of migrant workers who are the real builders of the country. Instead of strengthening the healthcare infrastructure and protecting healthcare workers, a political farce has been set in motion by calling upon citizens to bang utensils, light lamps and finally have the armed forces shower petals on hospitals instead of saving the migrant workers trying to walk back home across the country from hunger, exhaustion and even death.
AIFRTE appeals to all member and fraternal organizations, and all democratic individuals across the country to unite and raise their voices against this fascist authoritarian regime even as they unite to provide support and relief to the working masses for whom the Modi Government has shown neither concern nor respect.
Prof. Jagmohan Singh
(On Behalf of AIFRTE’s Presidium)